When two lines appeared on the pregnancy test, I expected strange cravings and nausea, I anticipated gaining weight, and I waited excitedly to feel those first precious kicks. Almost every day, I Googled a new pregnancy-related concern, and each month I read the latest in “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”
But what caught me by total surprise wasn’t in any of the books I was reading: it was the dryness in my prayer life.
I had spent the previous two years practicing Ignatian Contemplation under the guidance of my spiritual director. Every day for 15 to 30 minutes, I prayed by imagining myself in the scene of a Scripture passage. Often, I would come away from prayer having understood something new about the verse, God, or my life. I felt close to God.
However, during pregnancy, particularly the third trimester, such fruit was nowhere to be seen.
Finding the time to pray felt like a chore. When I did find it, insights about God were rare, imaginative prayer was difficult, and focusing was nearly impossible.
This wasn’t one occasion either. Day after day, prayer was arduous and “unproductive.” I felt like a failure, and it was frustrating.
There were already countless things I couldn’t do as I had in the past. Climbing a flight of stairs left me out of breath, and putting on my shoes was a feat of creative wrangling. I had thought my spiritual life would be safe from these changes, but now I feared this dryness was the new normal. I didn’t like it.
Nevertheless, I sat down each day and prayed. I prayed in the evenings on my couch with the Bible open on my lap. When evenings became too exhausting, I sat in the car during my lunch break to squeeze in some prayer.
It didn’t feel like prayer, though. It felt like sitting. And to be honest, most times I would rather be sleeping.
But God’s grace and my spiritual director’s guidance kept me coming back. She reminded me that feelings of failure, anxiety, and despondency are not of God. She suggested that perhaps, when I was most craving rest, God was inviting me to rest in Him.
Slowly, things changed.
Instead of feeling anxious to recapture the way I’d prayed before, God gave me peace.
My prayer didn’t feel productive, but I began to understand that prayer was indeed a space for me to rest in God. He allowed me to be still, to sit at Jesus’ feet the way Mary had.
When the baby was born, my day-to-day became a Martha life of near-constant feedings and oh-so-frequent diaper changes. But in those 15 to 30 minutes, I experienced Mary-prayer, the prayer of being at Christ’s feet.
Since then, I’ve been able to take comfort in knowing I’m not alone in my experience. When my friend (an experienced mother) confirmed that she had encountered the same dryness in prayer while pregnant and nursing, I sighed with relief.
It was further proof: this wasn’t some spiritual deficit but instead a characteristic of this stage of my vocation. As long as I stay with him (even in “unproductive” prayer), God can use this spiritual dryness for the good of my soul.
Now, when I look at the child in my arms, he doesn’t understand the complex facets of my personality. Often, he doesn’t even look at me while I feed him or lull him to sleep. Even so, it gives me joy that he is there, and that I can hold him so close to my heart.
Perhaps, while our bodies are busy constructing humans in our wombs, while our arms are weary from holding our little ones, and all we want is a stretch of uninterrupted sleep, God just wants to hold us, too.
Maybe this isn’t a season for understanding new complex facets of his personality, but instead, relaxing into one that he has made explicitly clear. God is our loving Father, the one who has said:
“Come to Me…and I will give you rest.”